While on a journey from the world of the souls to eternity, man finds himself on an adventure that not only presents conflicts but which is also filled with boundless joys and anticipation. The most arduous and dangerous phase of the journey is the time spent in this world. The adventure of life in this world is like a narrow corridor that stretches between the crib and the coffin, and it certainly is a difficult journey. The outcome of this journey will be either infinite happiness and blessings or unfathomable disappointment and loss.
People turn a blind eye to many truths; most importantly of all, they ignore what is beyond the beyond because of the veils of heedlessness that have been pulled over their eyes. Those who live without comprehending their position, duties and responsibilities in this temporary abode feel as if they are immortal and that death is distant, especially if they do not learn from the wisdom of asking and the contemplation of questions such as: “Who am I? Where did I come from and why? What is the truth of the existence of this world? “. They rebel against their mortality. Their yearning for eternity diminishes and thus they are at a disadvantage when preparing for the Afterlife. They condemn themselves to a life of deception, enraptured by the glitter of this world. However, the most important part of spiritual intuition and maturity for the human being starts with solving the riddle of the earth and the grave. Unless minds and hearts are devoted to what lays under the ground, it is not possible for them to access the realm of the grave.
The knowledge that is needed for drawing the road map to eternity and infinity, for uncovering the secret of death, belongs only to our Lord. The voice that provides the most satisfactory answer for this, that which provides the most certain and blessed guidance, belongs to the Prophets and their successors. Therefore, those friends of Allah who have been blessed with such Divine knowledge in their hearts, and who continue the duties of the Prophets, live in Divine elation, with the joy of being selected to awaken the heedless. They manifest wisdom and set examples, both real and metaphorical, in thousands of different ways and fashions, thus helping the Divine secrets become something more than a mere account of information, enabling them to penetrate the heart. In this respect, the first eighteen couplets of Mawlânâ Jalâluddîn Rûmî written as a prologue to his Mathnawi include the profoundest meanings of wisdom as well as many secrets. There are many converts to Islam who have chosen to become Muslims merely due to the impression of the secrets these couplets left on them.
Rûmî’s heart is one that is intoxicated, burning with the fire of love for the Lord, burning with a thirst that keeps rising, which cannot be quenched. In fact, he never ceases, not even for one moment, to yearn and endeavor to be one with the Beloved. However, some of Rûmî’s contemporaries were unable to comprehend his wisdom and the secrets born of an atmosphere of love; they talked behind his back in a number of ways. Without ever understanding his suffering, his efforts or the state of never-ending love, enthusiasm and intoxication, they caused him harm. Rûmî suffered because of their lack of understanding and tried to explain the yearning that exists in the heart of the perfect man through the lamenting song of the reed. As a matter of fact, Rûmî began his writing: “My secret is not separate from my laments; in fact, it is from my laments”, and he went on to bid the reader to “Listen!”
What we should do then is to lend an ear to the laments of Rûmî and his order to “Listen!” Rûmî, the sultan of love, succinctly says:
Listen to the song of the reed,
How it wails with the pain of separation:
Ever since I was taken from my reed bed
My woeful song has caused men and women to weep.
In other words, the reed is saying: “I used to be in a reed-bed. Both my roots and my heart were established in the water and in the ground. When I was there, I would sway gracefully from one side to another with every wind that blew my way. But one day, they cut me out of the reed bed. They sucked my body dry with the love of fire and then they scorched me and cut holes in me. They opened many wounds in my skin. And then they put me in the hands of one with a mighty breath. His warm breath of love passed through me. This breath drew out of me all there was but love. From that time on, I have cried out of love and my laments have continued to rise. My laments and cries, in truth, tell of the infinite, Divine secrets that are contained within me. They sing only of the truth and happiness that I have attained. In other words, my secrets are expressions hidden in the form of sounds that are in turn metaphorical revelations of my secrets. However, those who have not attained the light that will let them see past my secrets – because their eyes have no clear sight of the truth and their ears are rusty – are not in a state to understand the truths of which I tell.”
In the Mathnawi Mawlânâ Rûmî desires that those who listen to the reed attain Divine feelings after hearing its lamentation.
The original home of the reed, that is, the reed bed, is a symbol that refers to the union of human beings with Allah in eternity before coming to this world. Also, the fact that Allah Almighty has said of human beings in the Qur’an: “I have made him perfectly and breathed into him of My Spirit” means that the world of souls has in it a secret from Allah; it is said that those who are perfect men and those with spiritual insight are cognizant of this, burning with the yearning to become one with their Lord throughout their life.
Commentators on the Mathnawi interpret its commencement with the command “Bishnav!” (Listen!) as Rûmî’s attempt to show that the act of listening is a complement to the Qur’ân’s initial command “Iqra!” (Read!). He is essentially asking the reader to “Listen to the word of the Lord! Listen to the secrets! Listen to the truth hidden within you!”
The Mathnawi is like a bowl of dew that has been gathered from the truths and the secrets of the Qur’an for the people of the heart. Moreover, Rûmî begins his work with the ‘b’ of ‘bishnav’;this is also the symbol for the basmalah (the phrase uttered by Muslims at the beginning of any act and which means ‘In the name of Allah’). As a matter of fact, the letter ‘b’ was actually used at the beginning of writings, letters, and treatises to symbolize the Basmalah in Islamic culture. This practice finds its roots in the following words of our master ‘Alî: “All that is in the Qur’an is in Sûrat al-Fâtiha and all that there is in Sûrat al-Fâtiha is in the Basmalah; all that is in the Basmalah is in the letter ‘b’ found at the beginning of the word.”
The first eighteen couplets of the Mathnawi contain a world of secrets which testify to the intellectual subtlety and skill of Rûmî and also to the profundity of his words. It is for this reason that the prologue of the Mathnawi is explained couplet by couplet, word by word, or even letter by letter in many interpretations. In other words, these eighteen couplets are as important to the Mathnawi, a work that is comprised of more than twenty-six thousand couplets, as the Sûrat al-Fâtiha is to the Qur’ân. The first eighteen couplets were recorded by Rûmî himself, while he composed the rest to be written down by his devoted follower Husâmaddîn Jalabî.
In Rûmî’s view, the reed is the symbol of the perfect man who has rid himself of the desires of his egotistical self, who has annihilated his ego, and now, self-abnegated, is full of Divine love. The woe of the reed is due to its separation from the reed bed, its homeland. Likewise, man has been exiled from the eternal world, sent into this world as a trial in which he is separated from the sacred tekke (lodge) of Allah. Therefore, the human soul mourns its separation from Allah. Man, until he reaches complete fulfillment, will continue to burn, with a yearning for the happiness and serenity of the world of souls as he struggle in exile through pain, sickness and trouble. Throughout his entire life he will wail, either in silence or out loud, with a longing for a journey towards the world of union with the Beloved without being deceived by all that exists in this temporary place, a place where man exists only as an exile; his soul, and perhaps his body, a total stranger. Just like the woeful songs of the reed.
Man is also imprisoned in a cage that is his body. The desires of both his ego and his flesh are obstacles on the way to becoming one with his Lord. Having been confined in the cage that is his body, the heart of he who is a perfect man in love with the Lord always burns with the fire of separation and longing.
The result is that those who are overcome with the love of Allah are like fish in the sea. Even the sea of love in which they immerse themselves cannot quench their thirst. However, those who deny themselves this profound love are like those who are heedless enough to remain starving while sitting in front of a grand dinner table arrayed with thousands of dishes. Each day, they struggle in vain for a life that is as dim and dark as night. Immature souls such as these are left unaware and devoid of the Divine blessings that are bestowed upon pure and complete souls. This is true to the extent that words and meaning can make no impression on such people.
In summary, in the eighteen couplets which start with “Listen!” and end with the lines: “For a lower man, the stage of the perfect man is too lofty, so cut a long story short and say goodbye to him” apart from there being conveyed a general meaning, there are many great secrets. Perceiving an entire ocean in a single drop, Rûmî presents us with oceans to contemplate in each of his couplets.
In fact, Rûmî says, “I want a heart that is ripped apart to tell of the troubles of yearning and longing”, thus expressing the fact that only those in love, who burn with the fire to become one with the Beloved, can truly understand him. To understand this, one should think about the following example of how Rûmî perceives the perfect man:
“It was at night and I had gone out for a walk. I saw a man looking around with a lantern in his hand and I asked him: “What are you looking for at this time of the night?”
He said: “I am looking for a man”
I said to him: “Poor soul! You are wasting your time. I too left my homeland in search for him but have been unable to. Go back home. Go back to your sleep and enjoy it. You are looking for him in vain. You will not be able to find him anywhere.”
The poor man looked at me with sad eyes: “I too understand this. But I continue, for I enjoy looking for him.”
There is a longing to seek out the perfect man, the most dignified of all that has been created. The moment that this search transforms into a passion, one finds that for which he is looking. Otherwise, pure knowledge and searching without struggle can yield nothing. This is because love starts with struggle. To be able to go beyond the ocean of life and come together with the beloved is only possible with the blessings that come with the struggle of love and intoxication. Hearts without Divine Love are burdens on people’s chests; they are heavy loads caught up in the whirlpools of the ocean of life; in the end they will be drowned and destroyed.
Hearts are like fish. Whether fish live or die depends on their existence in the sea and feeding on the food provided. Once the fish leaves the sea, its life ends and it dies. The heart too, if left without remembrance and love of Allah, becomes like a fish out of water. It becomes heedless and is ruined in the grasp of one’s lower self (nafs). It remains unaware and imperceptive when confronted by the manifestations of Divine greatness and wisdom.
May Allah Almighty make us of those who listen to the Divine call of perfect men, from those who are able to see their wisdom and secrets; may He make us of those who burn with a yearning of love and intoxication for being one with Him just as the reed and may He lead us, finally, to Himself. Âmîn!